Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Notes On An Unfinished Magic System

A while back, I was working on a more freeform magic system as sort of a side project. Even with some great advice from Bill Corrie of HinterWelt, I became a little stuck and didn't finish it, so please excuse the unfinished product below. I think the basic idea is cool, but I don't know how it would work out. I'd love to hear feedback! Please note this was originally designed to be used with an open-ended percentile system (ala HARP or Rolemaster):

When you toy with magic, you toy with the base fabric of life, the world, the universe. Nor is magic easily tamed--it is an overwhelming tide, a raging torrent of power. Only the wisest, the most learned, and the most dedicated can ever truly say to have refined magic--and even then, the smallest slip can cause catastrophe.

Yet as long as individuals crave the unknown and power, the study of magic will prevail. In this system, the magical world is broken up into Domains. Each Domain represents a trait or element of the world that the magician may come to control. The known Domains now number perhaps two dozen in all, but mages are certain that other have simply not yet been accessed or lie unknown.

It is rare that any mage will have power in more than one Domain. The Magery skill (note: a skill in our homebrew noting skill in magic) allows a character to choose one Domain. Only specially trained characters with Magery 2 can have two Domains. The strain and difficulty of attempting to use even one Domain is more than enough for most mortals.

List of Domains


(An incomplete list, but I am still figuring out how to reconcile things like "Spirit" and "Life/Death").

Once choosing a Domain, one must understand that various Actions (aka Power Words) are they key to using the element or subject of that Domain in different ways. There are 6 Actions known to mages:

Inflict: Used in an offensive capability--projecting that Domain on or towards an object or person.
Create: Used to summon or create that element where none naturally may have existed or where there was an absence of said Domain previously.
Enhance: Used to heighten, enhance, strengthen, or multiply an already-present element or material of the Domain.
Alter: Used to change, re-shape, or transform the Domain material/element in question.
Diminish: Used to reduce, weaken, shrink, or stunt the Domain material/element in question.
Destroy: Used to eradicate, eliminate, or disintegrate the Domain material/element in question.
Protect: Used to protect against or with the Domain material/element in question.

So, here is a small example of some of the ways these Actions could be used in the Water Domain. Each Action has an example of a Minor, Intermediate, Major, and Epic use of the skill:

Inflict Water

Minor: Sends a jet of water towards a person or animal, with enough to clean them off.
Intermediate: Allows a bolt of water to slam into a person, strong enough to cause some damage.
Major: A massive directed wave slams into a person object, doing fairly heavy damage.
Epic: Creates a Tsunami capable of wiping out a hamlet.

Create Water
Minor: Creates enough water for a small kettle over a fireplace; can refill waterskins.
Intermediate: Creates enough water to fill several bathtubs.
Major: Creates enough water to water an entire farmer's turnip field.
Epic: Hey! A new pond!

Enhance Water

Minor: Takes a small faucet drip and turns it into a steady stream
Intermediate: The almost-dry well shoots up a spring of clean water!
Major: you were able to raise the water level here enough to let your river galley get past!
Epic: Well, it was a gentle creek crossing. Now it's a rather angry-looking, deep, white-water river crossing.

Alter Water
Minor: Creating ice cubes in your drink
Intermediate: Freezing a cask of water
Major: Turning an entire fountain's water supply to steam
Epic: Freezing a pond to walk across it.

Diminish Water
Minor: Wrings out washcloths, wet clothes
Intermediate: Lessens the rain around you
Major: Lessens the rain around your entire estate
Epic: Can turn a Tsunami into a small wave

Destroy Water
Minor: Drying up a puddle.
Intermediate: Withering plants into dust.
Major: Reducing an iceberg to nothingness
Epic: Severely harm/destroy someone by removing the a goodly amount of their composition that's water.

Protect Water

Minor: Provides a small bonus against water-based attacks.
Intermediate: Creates a wall of water to slow missile weapons.
Major: Immunity from Water attacks.
Epic: Create a spinning, violent barrier of water around your keep.

As you can probably thought to yourself when reading, different Action and Domain combos can likely justify doing close to the same things. And I hope you thought of more exciting ways to use those Actions! That's how it should be. This is not a regimented, heavily-structured spell list. Your imagination, the various difficulty checks, and how much your GM allows (and how often your plans backfire) will be a large portion of your limitations here.

Developing Ranks

Each Action is developed as a separate skill, at the cost of 5 DPs per level. Keep in mind the rules of skill usage still apply--you need to study or practice that skill if you're moving on up in it.

Write it on your sheet as Action: Domain (Ex: Inflict: Earth; Diminish: Air; Enhance: Physic)

Suggested Magic Difficulty Checks

Easy: 40
Intermediate: 70
Major: 110
Epic: 180+

Note the target numbers can be upwards or downwards revised depending on how the GM feels the attempted spell measures up. If he gauges it firmly between Intermediate and Major, saying you have to hit a 90, then that's how it is.

Note it is also perfect acceptable to bump up the difficulty depending on range or subtlety desired. For example, attempting to thread as needle with a breeze isn't affecting any lives, but its pretty exact. Perhaps that 40 DC just became a 60 or 70.

Closeness To the Mark, And Your Bonus

The closer you are to the DC number, the closer your spell went according to plan. If you are trying an Intermediate spell and roll a 70, hey, congrats--you're there. If you roll a 15, you're way off the mark. If you open-end and roll a 285, you're way, way off the mark.

This is where your bonus from your ranks in that Action/Domain deviates from a normal skill check. In a normal skill check, you just add your bonus to your roll. For magic skills, that bonus represents the degree of control you have over that Action/Domain combo. That means if you have what looks like a +20%, you have the ability to adjust your roll up to 20 points in either direction, allowing you a better chance of getting to your target difficulty check number.

For example, if I have a +20 from 4 ranks in Diminish (Fire), and am attempting to do a spell that has been set as a DC of 70, and I roll a 91, I can subtract 20 points from it to get to a 71, and pretty close to the mark. If I had rolled a 51, I could have used 19 points to stop on 70 exactly. I don't have use all 20, just what I want/need to get as close to the target DC as I can. So the more ranks I have, the better my bonus, and therefore the greater my finesse and ability to do exactly what I want with a spell.

In general, results that are lower than the DC simply do not work, unless within a few percentage points. In that case, depending on the GM, you MIGHT get a partial or weakened result, but it won't be pretty. If it's over by more than 5 points, well, that's just as bad, maybe worse. 10 points over? Eh, it'll work like you thought--with likely one thing missing, gone wrong or altered (GM's discretion, again). Over 20? 50? 100? You are unable to control the mystic power. It rages through you, and whatever you were attempting to do, it probably ends in a really big, possibly explosive mess. We'll leave it to the GM to determine just what and how poorly that bodes for you, but we suggest plenty of unbridled arcane energy, plenty of collateral damage, some hit points missing, and definitely nothing subtle about the results. It might be spectacular, even glorious. And that might be all your blackened, smoking mage has to console himself with.

Keep in mind to scale accordingly. A mage attempting to roll a 40 and getting a 55 will not cause the universe to cease its existence. But it'll probably be a little more than he wanted of whatever he was doing. Now, a 255....


(Er, coming soon. This was going to be my way of limiting the power of mages--making fatigue checks with every spell attempt).

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